We Are All Content Providers Now

My final “Managing Up” post for Steyer Associates offers an abbreviated look at earlier trends in technical communications. Here’s a longer meditation on being in the trenches over some of the most life-changing technical advances in the past quarter century.

Photo of Lascaux painting by Prof saxx from wikipediaA decade out of college, I first asserted in a job interview that I was a writer. Previously, my job roles had included editing—for solar energy designers, conservation policy advocates, and a couple of dyslexic physicists. During that “editorial” apprenticeship, I typically tossed 90 percent of what I received and rewrote it. That made me a writer, correct?

I faked my way through that interview and went to work for a local power utility, where I learned the basics of tech writing, before the profession had degree programs or professional associations.

The tech writing basics? Forget what your English teacher said: There is no practical use for creative, complex sentence structures in tech writing: Continue reading

I’d write less, but there wasn’t time in the schedule

This month’s Managing Up post “You Want How Much Done? By When?” introduces scheduling fundamentals for contract #tech-communications workers.

Work Breakdown SchedulePatty at Steyer Associates reported that their research showed that ~300 words was the right size for a blog post. So I had to pare from the 950 words I’d already drafted. I’m providing the whole article here—since scheduling for a program manager is a whole discipline. A 300-word peek won’t give you much insight into a manager’s compulsive, continuous thinking about schedules.

This topic is of interest if you are anywhere in your technical communications career where you need a deeper understanding of the scheduling processes. Continue reading

Docs Ready for Tech Review?

Show MarkupPenny Orwick and I completed a series of posts for Steyer Associates on peer reviews for technical documentation.

A point we both made in our example peer reviews was that the original draft content wasn’t ready for review, much less for publication. To wrap up our series, Penny suggested a checklist.

Today’s Ready for Review? A Checklist provides the basics, plus some cautionary notes about what you risk losing if you send poor docs for tech review:

  • Discrediting yourself with your technical experts
  • Discrediting yourself with your peers

Typically I link to my tech-communications blog topic with a parallel for fiction writers. But it seems like there are a lot of models out there. So this time I’ll just link again to my Checklist for Writer/Editor Collaborations.

Other topics in our “peer review tips” collection:


“What If They Fire My Boss?”

AbideThis article is for my peers and comrades who are technical-communications professionals that work in vendor contracting agencies, rather than working as full-time employees of a technology company.

Here in Seattle right now, you can’t innocently browse the Web, glance at your Facebook feed, or check scores in the local newspaper without a fearsome speculation jumping out to grab you:

“Layoffs of up to 5,642 Reportedly Expected”
“With Merger, Local Layoffs Are Expected”
“Will Wall Street Still Love this Company When It Lays Off 20% of  Workforce?”

Then your mother or sister or best friend from college calls and asks, innocently, “Will you lose your job with all these layoffs?”

… that haven’t actually happened …

Those of us who choose to work as contract employees are always steeped in uncertainty:

What happens if this contract is cancelled?

Will this contract be renewed when it ends?

Have all contracting jobs dried up?

Let me share some manager’s experience about the issues that can affect contract works when the “permanent” supervisor’s position seems to be in jeopardy. Continue reading

Editor/Writer in Tech Comms: No fighting, No biting

I have a new Managing Up post up for Steyer Associates that reflects on editor/writer relations in technical communications: Writer vs. Editor = Spy vs. Spy?

SpyvsSpyThis time, I’m emphasizing what a manager wants to see—and yes, I’m brutal:

  • Tech Writer: Your Job #1 is to please the Subject-Matter Experts who own the technology you’re writing about (or who own the business strategy) by preparing correct, clear content. Job #2 is to follow the style guide. If you’re worried about the editor marring your personal voice and style preferences, you aren’t doing your job.
  • Tech Editor: Your job is to drive the corporate voice, enforce consistency in terminology and presentation, complete the legal edits, and serve as first, best reader to ensure clarity.

Read on for my specific guidelines in relation to the basic rules of collaboration: no fighting, no biting.

…and if you missed it, earlier notes on fiction writer vs. editor relations:
Is that Blood on My Manuscript? Or Are You Just Happy to Ream Me?

Let’s (Not) Be Friends: Manager-Team Relations

My new blog post at Steyer.net explores Manager motivations around setting boundaries, focusing on issues for contract workers in technical communications.

A little medieval advice sharing

I believe the issues in this post make sense for other kinds of Manager/Team Member relationships. However, the Steyer.net post offers guidelines for workers. Here are some watch-the-line recommendations for managers:

  • Be aware of cliques in your team.
    Avoid joining or encouraging them.
  • Be 100% inclusive in all social invitations, whether for morale-building exercises or holiday parties.
  • Recognize “over sharing” situations.
    If you’re uncomfortable with what you’re hearing about your team member’s personal crisis, it’s time to draw the line.
  • Know how to handle “over sharing”:
    “I’m sympathetic. But  I’m not comfortable knowing more than I should as your manager.”
  • Don’t play psychologist or doctor.
    Know how to refer outward to HR or Benefits resources.
  • If you have doubts about anything, discuss it with your HR partner:
    — Accommodations that are appropriate to offer.
    — How to change repeated conversation from sympathetic listening to active direction.

Me? I’m retired from management and now only provide direct services or consultation. I’m grateful that I no longer have to shoulder the manager’s burden of both caring for and setting boundaries for people that I manage.

Partying like it’s PC99

A group from my old Hardware Evangelism team* at Microsoft reconvened recently, just to check in with each other. This is the crew that:

  • Made sure you don’t have to set a jumper on the motherboard if you want to switch between audio and a CD drive.
  • Rid the PC of legacy connectors in favor of USB, got wired and wireless networking to work consistently, drove DVD into the business laptop market.
  • Fixed annoyances like color-coded connectors and making your external mouse and touchpad both work simultaneously on your laptop.
  • Brought 3D graphics to every PC.

And, critically important, we got the industry to design and built hardware so that Plug and Play works.

In the flow of the afternoon conversations, these ideas surfaced about how to drive change: